“Stick with this kid, Fats. He’s a loser.” - Bert Gordon to Minnesota Fats in Walter Tevis’ “The Hustler” after Fast Eddie says it doesn’t matter if Fats won that night, that he was the better pool shooter.
On the surface, it would seem Mike Tyson is behind the eight ball. “The Hustler” talks not of “heart,” or “guts” or something more Anglo-Saxon. The word Tevis adds to the sports lexicon is “character.”
On the surface, it would seem Mike Tyson has no character. He left prison and went back to Don King, the man who “managed” his money almost comically (see $20,000 charges to Tyson for flagpoles on King’s Orwellian farm, see $1,000 a week to King’s daughter as president of the fighter’s fan club).
George Foreman suggests Tyson is a loser personally. The Preacher, who became heavyweight champion at 45, has little faith that Tyson has changed. He said he didn’t think Tyson’s embrace of Islam “was sincere at all.”
“The Muslims have such a toehold in the prison system,” said Foreman. “He might have done it just to smooth his own way. Before he went away, I heard Tyson used to drink Long Island iced tea, which is mixing all these different liquors together. Now he’s there spiritually, mixing silly with silly.”
Tyson may not be able to fight. Who knows? He hasn’t been acting as if he has to find out quickly.
Foreman suggests Tyson has fear. The heavyweight champion - and there is no other - said, “Here’s a guy everybody says is supposed to be the toughest in the world and he could have come out of jail, signed a contract and split $100 million with me.”
Foreman suggests Tyson fears Big George. I suspect if Tyson has any fear, it is of the unknown - whether he can still fight.
He wasn’t much almost four years ago, last time we saw him in the ring, amateurishly getting by limited slugger “Razor” Ruddock. His skills, and they were impressive, had dissipated in arrogance. He did not need Kevin Rooney: He did not need any trainer. He did not have to bob and weave, or even duck.
It is unlikely that three years with no sparring and no gloves, and approaching age 29, have improved him.
“It would be the biggest sham in history if, after all that money spent on him, by the MGM and Showtime, if he may not be able to perform,” said Dan Goossen, a Bob Arum associate.
Something doesn’t add up, but then, Tyson was never strong on math, the subject that blocked him from getting an equivalency diploma in prison. He just bought five BMWs, which will be difficult to fit into the four-car garage of his new Las Vegas mansion.
Most would have thought that the first thing Tyson would want to know is just how much of his reflexes he has left. How quick is he? And he has to get his skin, and body, accustomed to accepting leather again.
Tyson was always a two-bit hustler. He could con a lot of people, but he always acted as if he wanted to be conned himself, which may explain his attraction to Don King. The promoter will make sure he wins some of those alphabet titles. Tyson may still be good enough to beat everyone out there. I suspect he’s looking for a way to lose.